How Does Smoke Inhalation Impact Your Horse?

How Does Smoke Inhalation Impact Your Horse?

Wildfire season is here early this year and GoHorse is here to help you through this stressful time. Learn how smoke impacts your horse and what you can do to minimize its effects. If you’re a horse health expert with tips to share, we’d love to hear from you. Send us your best advice and we’ll be sure to share it with the rest of the GoHorse community. 

If you’re like us, you’re tempted to bring your horse inside with you when the smoke gets bad. The next best solution is to monitor the Air Quality Index and recognize the signs of respiratory distress in your horse before it becomes life-threatening. 

Wildfire smoke is made up of gases and particles ranging from as big as ash to as small as a millionth of a millimeter in diameter. That’s tiny! Depending on the size, it can float on the breeze for hundreds of miles and enter our horses’ lungs before we’re even aware of what’s happening. Our bodies recognize these particles as unwanted foreign objects and try to expel them with watering eyes, coughing, and sneezing. Your horse responds in the same way. 

How do you know when there’s an issue? There are several great Air Quality resources you can access. allows you to enter your city and state to see what the overall air quality rating is in your area or you can click on the link to an interactive map that will show you real-time fire reports. Keep in mind that air quality is considered unhealthy any time the Air Quality Index (AQI) is above 100. 

What to Do on Smoky Days 

Most horses handle smoky days without any significant problems, but this list will help you prepare to make it as easy as possible on them in the event they need some extra support. 

  1. Give your horse the day off of exercise or work 

  2. Provide lots of water to flush out smoke particles and lessen the irritation in their lungs 

  3. Water round pens and arenas before using them (even if it’s just for turnout) 

  4. Keep stalls as clean and dust-free as possible 

  5. Soak hay before you feed so your horse isn’t inhaling dust while they eat 

  6. Be prepared to contact a veterinarian near you if your horse displays signs of distress

Know Your Horse 

Every barn and horse is unique. Talk to your vet about what you can do to keep your horse comfortable on smoky days. Some barns have nebulizers (horse inhalers) and your vet can tell you if your horse is a good candidate for that treatment. 

If your horse: 

  • Is a senior 

  • Has allergies, asthma, or heaves 

  • Is prone to upper respiratory issues 

  • Has any a condition that compromises their lungs 

Keep a close eye on them on smoky days. 

Most horses can withstand the negative effects of smoky air, but it’s important to be prepared to intervene if necessary. Call your vet if your horse’s breathing becomes labored or its respiratory rate spikes above 30. Your veterinarian can administer steroids, vitamins, and other treatments to help your horse breathe easier. UC Davis has a great guide on when to call a vet. Just print it out, laminate it and hang it up in your barn for easy reference. 

Depending on the severity of the smoke, your horse may need a few weeks to heal before you go back to intensive riding. Start with some light riding or in-hand work. As long as your horse is acting normal, you can slowly increase the intensity and duration of your rides. 

Go On Vacation 

Many of us are working from home this year. That gives us the freedom to work from wherever we want. Take your horse on a vacation to get out of the smoke. Explore new trails or spoil yourself with a few days at a facility with a beautiful arena. Use the GoHorse map to find barns open to overnight boarders and have fun! 

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